Tallahassee, FL - Redshirt freshman cornerback Xavier Rhodes has quickly established himself as one of the most consistent and productive Florida State defenders in his first year as a starter.
Members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association recognized Rhodes’ contributions to the vastly improved Florida State defense by selecting the Miami native as the Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Rookie of the Year.
“I’m very surprised; I’m very happy,” Rhodes said. “All of the hard work I’ve been through in the offseason, in the weight room and the extra work I’ve done with the coaches – the technique work – everything has come true. The hard work has paid off. I’m overwhelmed.”
Rhodes is the first Florida State player to earn Defensive Rookie of the Year honors; an award that was first presented in 2007. He joins former Seminole freshmen Chris Rix (2001), Travis Minor (1997) and Tamarick Vanover (1992), who earned ACC Rookie of the Year honors before the league began recognizing players on both sides of the ball.
“Obviously a lot of people are recognizing he’s had a really good year,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “I said all along I thought he was going to be a good player. He’s working that way. He’s still got a long way to go to be a great player, but he’s heading in the right direction.
“He’s got a great attitude, good ability and he’s making plays on the field. I’m glad he’s on our team.”
A 12-game starter at the boundary corner position, Rhodes leads the ACC in pass break-ups (11) and is tied for ninth nationally in passes defended (15). The one-time high school receiver is also tied for the team lead with three interceptions and recovered a pair of fumbles in FSU’s 31-7 victory over rival Florida. Beyond his solid coverage work, he has lent a physical presence to the secondary as well, registering 46 tackles (39 solos), including 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.
Consistency has been one of Rhodes’ strengths playing at a position where errors are magnified.
“I’m proud and happy that I’m consistent and can help my team,” said Rhodes, who admitted he lacked confidence early in the season before gaining experience. “I got confident and started making plays; I started seeing things before they happened.”
“He takes pride in what he does,” Fisher added. “He’s fought through some injuries during the year. … He’s just a very good competitor and he’ going to be a really fine player.”
Rhodes earned second team All-ACC honors on Monday, but despite the accolades, is not at all content with what he’s been able to accomplish at this stage in his career.
“I feel like I’ve played good, but I think I could have played much better,” Rhodes said. “There have been plays that I didn’t make that could have made a difference in a game.”
‘Noles begin earnest preparation for Hokies
Fisher put the Seminoles through a 2 ½ hour practice Wednesday with the focus squarely on preparing for Saturday’s ACC Championship Game against Virginia Tech in Charlotte, N.C..
The 20th-ranked Seminoles (9-3, 6-2 ACC) will take on the Hokies (10-2, 8-0) in a rematch of the inaugural 2005 ACC title match in Jacksonville, when FSU prevailed 27-22. The game will be televised on both ESPN and ESPN 3-D (7:45 p.m.).
While the game has far-reaching implications – the winner is assured a BCS berth in the Orange Bowl – the championship game lead-up is not the same as it would be for a bowl game.
“It’s another game that means the same thing,” Fisher said. “We’ve been in elimination games the last three weeks; they’ve all been playoff games. Playing your rival is a big game. We want to win an ACC championship, but we’ve got to go about preparing for it.
“We’ll take the same mental approach and have to play the game the same way.”
Quarterback Christian Ponder (elbow), tailback Ty Jones (ankle) and offensive guard Bryan Stork (ankle) all took part in Tuesday’s practice.